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The unplanned trip- Uncertainties and beyond

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“And yesterday it rained really heavy; I have sent you the picture of the fallen tree in the premise. The wind was so hasty that the tree got uprooted from ground, I could only hear the roars of thunders and see the lightening from the dusty window pane”.

This was our fourth phone call after the lockdown and it finally felt good to sense the calmness in her voice. Sushma, a peer educator at YES leading a program on SRHR in her community is also a good friend of mine. She lives with her family of nine members in Suggamau community and is very cheerful; one of the qualities that caught me up was her curiosity, she asked a lot many questions and they were all diverse. Her father is a daily wage worker, living her for 4 years are “migrants from Chattisgarh”.

I remember when she called me amid lockdown around 22th April and asked out of her innocence “When will the corona go ma’am, my father is planning to go back to Chattishgarh right away. There is no income & food now, & seeing the news of migrants walking for 500 km or so haunts me.” One thing that I could in that position was to immediately deliver enough rations for a month, at her house. And it worked, they stayed here in fact somehow we also managed to provide ration to others in her community. But realistically, that is not enough; sometimes it is not about getting something but earning it. With no prosper, what affects the most is the dignity of human life often causing depression and anxiety.

It was the 19th day since I met her, I receive her call “I am going home ma’am, I don’t know when I will be back, thank you for helping me with ration. It was with that, we got more time to plan our travel back, we had to go anyway. But, I will miss you”

 I could hear noises of men & honking of bus but there was a long persistent silence between us. Working on field there are moments, connections and relations that only a field worker can understand. I could not say much, it was a mixed feeling; they had decided it and were half way from the town. I felt helpless and thought if it was my fault to not being able to stop them.

“Do you know ma’am, out of every asset we have, we chose to take the Television and stitching machine with us. Chattisgarh is 945 km from here and the roads are so snake types & there are also mountains, sometime it feels like I will puke. But other times the view is so beautiful that I take out my phone and click pictures, but seems like the camera is slower that my vision. Have you ever been to Chattisgarh”

I laughed; she is someone who knows how to find happiness even in difficult times. And so I immediately drank some water and continued to talk to her. I knew she won’t stop until she had told me every single detail.

“Ma’am whenever our bus passed a food corner near highway, I felt bad as I could not eat anything. The driver uncle said that you cannot give money to anyone. Since nobody questioned and you know me, so tell me what I must have asked”

“Why” I said, yes I knew her habit.

I was correct; she did ask the same question, the level of precautions they all were taking is also commendable. Sometimes I feel like if we were so aware and took proper precautions, would this be the situation.

“See the corona bus going” was one thing that really hit me, despite the reminders of being empathetic towards everyone, whenever the buss passed by group of people, they shouted out this sentence. And the phone got disconnected with loss in network. Keen to see the mountains she was talking about I searched on Google and yes they were indeed beautiful.

And the next call was full of confused emotions and glimpse of adolescence, questions about the city she left and the list was long. This entire situation had made her more sensitive, she discussed with me about her father’s job, quarantine centres, situation of people, my work and if I was talking enough precautions or not.

She also sent me pictures from the centre and pointed out where she plays during day time and how she has become friends with the cook and has a silent access to food whenever she wishes. Of course, she is just an adolescent, whose life has just turned around like any other, her studies, friends, her dreams everything has left behind. When I asked how will she cope with the studies to which she innocently replied “I might drop this year, with all the money we have spent in coming here, lets also see when we are back, but till then can you visit me here, I really miss you and long to see you.” I was so astounded to see her quick change in topics each time. I guess that is how life is, as they say unpredictable we genuinely have to find our ways of happiness.

This time, she specially called me up to tell about the thunderstorm &rain last night and how the long lived tress got uprooted from the ground. Very similar to what Corona has done to our city makers, took away the ground from their feet. But anyway Sushma has promised to come back “Ma’am, when this corona will end and we come back to our house, I will cook special Chattisgarh curry for you, please visit us again”.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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